Planetarium renovation brings joy, wonder to children

The planetarium before the renovation was fickle and unpredictable. Photo by Muhammad Al-Rawi
The lights dimmed, casting a faint blue glow on the surrounding white walls in the dome shaped room of the planetarium. Excitement flooded the onlookers faces as they anticipated the actions of the new equipment installed in the planetarium over spring break.
This new equipment allows for the shows to take on more of a film aspect with moving characters and 3D images. Funds for this new project were provided by donations from the Endless Skies fundraiser. 
“Rocket Man” by Elton John began to play and a rocket simulation filled the screen around the room. The cartoon-like simulation was a much different introduction than its predecessor, which was only available in pictures.
This new 3D take on the old show is geared toward second through fifth graders. By next year the planetarium hopes to expand its viewing ages to high school level shows.
“I think the show we have now definitely has the wow factor to it,” astronomy teacher Jamie McSparin said. “Before, we just had the front screen and it was side projectors. So a lot of them were either half way out of focus or unaligned, so it didn’t really match up, and there was no movement so all we had were these still pictures and voices talking almost like a comic book, whereas now we’ve got the 360 all the way around, a picture with movement and lots of stuff going on.”
After the introduction, the new presentation began, showcasing a story called “Earth’s Wild Ride.” The effects takes the audience to the future when people inhabit the moon. A grandfather and his grandchildren are watching a solar eclipse from the moon’s view. As the moon’s shadow passes by certain areas the grandfather relates a tale from history to his grandchildren. He touches on many geographical features that make Earth unique.
“I thought it was really cool how they used the 3D effect to keep the kids’ interest while giving a lot of information,” senior Mckenzie Johnson said. “I thought it was cool that it covered a lot of subject matter that we didn’t cover when we were little. I thought some of the other movies [from before] were a little choppy. The only thing that really connected it was the motions from video to video.”
In addition to this video sequence, the Planetarium is now able to offer more movie-like shows that touch on other academic studies as well. Other video sequences include an ocean scene with a ferocious shark, a visit inside the human body and a tour inside a space craft. Each scene cascades into the next with few words in between.  The planetarium has moved into the new age with this technology, finding new ways to entertain its audience.
“I think the [younger kids] loved it,” McSparin said. “I heard a lot of giggling and screaming and apparently classrooms around have complained because they can hear it through their walls all day. So I think it is going to provide a lot of interest in science and the planetarium itself and get [younger kids] excited to come to Rock Bridge and take science classes.”
By Alexa Walters